Quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers will always remain the top draw when it comes to recruiting in the Big Ten, but the whole conference is in store for a revitalization at the tight end position. This year, Bill O'Brien will be steering the ship for Penn State football.
Take a look around the Big Ten this season and you will see the emergence of the tight end position nearly everywhere you look.
Wisconsin and Northwestern each had Mackey Award finalists on their rosters last year. The Badgers return junior Jacob Pedersen to give new quarterback Danny O'Brien a reliable option. Nebraska is hoping for a solid season from Kyler Reed, and Minnesota and Indiana hope to start clawing out of the Big Ten basement with upswings from Eric Lair and Ted Bolser, respectively. Ohio State could have a legitimate tight end in Jake Stoneburner if he comes back from suspension and keeps a solid head on his shoulders.
Then there is Penn State, where Bill O'Brien is introducing the "Y" and "F" tight ends to the new-look offense.
O'Brien, of course, is known for his use of the tight end position from his stint with the New England Patriots, where Rob Gronkowski quickly became a Pro Bowl player. The "Y" tight end will be used more for blocking and shorter routes, while the "F" tight end will constantly be on the move and looking for open field. In essence, the "F" tight end will be like a bigger wide receiver looked upon to haul in passes when the wide receivers may not be open.
If it is successful, Penn State's offense may draw more looks from some talented tight ends around the country. Tom Dienhart, of the Big Ten Network, recently ranked the top 10 tight ends in the conference, which lacked any Penn State players.
Having the nation's top tight end, Adam Breneman, already lined up for the next recruiting class is a good start. And if Penn State's tight ends start taking advantage of their opportunities against the linebackers in the conference, then the concept will start to catch on elsewhere.
Of course, the Big Ten already knows how valuable the tight end position can be.
Iowa is already prepping for their resurgence at the tight end position.
Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg spoke highly of his tight ends in a spring conference call. As well he should have. New offensive coordinator Greg Davis (from Texas) sent three tight ends through the NFL draft between 2005 and 2008. If he can produce the same kind of results at Iowa, the Hawkeyes will also be playing a key role in the return of the tight end position.
As the tight end position evolves at Penn State, Iowa and around the Big Ten, the recruiting philosophy has the potential to change.
Every Big Ten school will want to have one or two tight ends to anchor their passing game, and a higher emphasis may be placed on dual-tight-end recruiting rather than adding an extra wide receiver or running back. Or perhaps the idea of a blocking tight end will supersede a need for an offensive lineman.
But Penn State has the greatest chance to start changing the way the Big Ten recruits by moving south.
One of the main objectives of O'Brien's recruiting strategy is to get into the southern states. He knows the south, as do many of his coaches, from past coaching gigs in the ACC. Now he has a well-funded program to sell.
Recruiting quarterback Steven Bench out of Georgia was widely regarded as the beginning of the southern movement for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is not abandoning the north, of course, but there is no secret that some of the top talent in the game is down south, and there is plenty of talent to spread around.
Penn State is already opening the door in Florida, with the verbal commitment of Florida safety Neiko Robinson, and will continue to strengthen its footing in Virginia and Maryland as it continues to find ways to migrate south while still defending its home region.
Penn State has to recruit in the south, too, because Urban Meyer still carries some prestige in SEC country, which likely means Ohio State will have a strong presence in the south as well.
Fighting fire with fire is what Penn State must and will do. And when they do, so will the rest of the Big Ten.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.
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